It would really be better to begin this chapter with v. Ge 33:18 of the preceding chapter, telling of Jacob's arrival at Shechem. For, apparently, the things recorded in it followed immediately or almost so upon the arrival.
It must also be determined how much time has elapsed since Jacob's return to Canaan. If Joseph, according to Ge 37:2, was seventeen years old at the time there described, which again was shortly after the events of chapter 34, and Joseph was only about six years old at the time of Jacob's arrival in Canaan, it would be safe to assume that the events of our chapter transpired about ten years after the return to Canaan. Dinah must have been at least fourteen years old; fifteen is not impossible.
1-3. And Dinah, the daughter that Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the country; and Shechem, the son of Hamor, the Hivite, a prince of the country, saw her, and took her, and lay with her and ravished her. And he was much attached to Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl, and comforted the girl's heart.
For the better understanding of what follows it is well to know that Dinah was "the daughter that Leah had borne to Jacob." It would hardly seem that her act of going out would be referred to as "going out to see the women of the country," if Dinah had been wont to go out thus many times before. It is useless to speculate whether mere idle curiosity prompted her, or whether she went without consulting her parents, or whether she even went forth contrary to their wishes. We are unable to determine to what extent she was at fault, if at all. In any case, it seems she should have known that Egyptians and Canaanites (Ge 12:15; 20:2; 26:7) regarded unmarried women abroad in the land as legitimate prey and should not have gone about unattended. Shechem happens to find her. The fact that he is the son of Hamor, a Hivite prince, seems to make him feel that he especially has privileges in reference to unattended girls. We are not told whether she was pleased with and encouraged his first approaches. At least, the young prince was bent upon seduction. This his object was accomplished, whether she resisted or not. If Ge 48:22 informs us that the inhabitants of Sechem were Amorites, the apparent contradiction seems to be solved by the fact that the general name for the Canaanite tribes was Amorites.
3. At least, wrong as his deed was, Shechem "loved" Dinah; we read "he was much attached" to her, an expression rendered in Hebrew: "his soul clung to her." After her seduction he sought "to comfort the girl's heart" -- an expression for which the original has: "he spoke upon the heart of the girl." For "girl" the common gender form na'ar is regularly used in the Pentateuch, always pointed na'arah by the Masoretes (G. K.17 c), a word supposedly belonging to J, as though only he could write about "girls." Shechem, therefore, was not like cruel Amnon (2Sa 13). This occurrence serves to illustrate the low standard of morals prevalent among the Canaanites. Any unattended female could be raped, and in the transactions that ensue neither father nor son feel the need of apologizing for or excusing what had been committed. But Shechem in his "comforting" no doubt promised marriage to Dinah and otherwise sought to relieve her fears.
4-6. And Shechem spoke unto Hamor, his father, saying: Get me this damsel for wife. And Jacob on his part heard that he had defiled Dinah, his daughter, but as far as his sons were concerned, they were with his cattle out in the field. So Jacob kept still till they came. And Hamor, the father of Shechem, went forth to Jacob to consult with him.
Shechem is so much in earnest about actually having Dinah to wife that he at once goes to his father and asks him to take the steps necessary to secure her. For as the story of Samson (Jud 14:2) also indicates, the ones who arranged for marriages were the parents. The brevity of Shechem's demand -- "Get me this damsel for wife" -- indicates the young man's urgency.
5. The arrangement of verses would seem to indicate that before Hamor came to Jacob news of the misfortune of Dinah had already reached Jacob's ears. Since both "Jacob" and "his sons" stand first in their respective clauses for emphasis, the peculiar emphasis that these clauses gain runs thus: Jacob heard, but his sons were in the field. This definitely implies that in the matter of the disposal of a daughter or of safeguarding her rights the brothers, if of age, acted jointly with the father. The father could according to the custom of those days do nothing without the consent of the full brothers of the girl. Naturally, so large an establishment as Jacob had would keep the individual members of the family pretty well scattered till perhaps toward evening. Despite his great grief Jacob "kept still" -- the perfect with waw conversive makes a durative imperfect (K. S.367 i). Everyone can understand how the father's heart must have been lacerated by this tragic news. Dinah could not have been the one who informed her father, because she was kept in Shechem's house (v. Ge 34:26). The critics call timme', "defile," a ritual term and therefore assert that a later Levitical hand inserted it. B D B proves that the term is used in an "ethical and religious" sense as well as being a ritual term. So the critical objection falls away.
6. Hamor "went forth" because Jacob dwelt outside of the city as a newcomer.
7. And the sons of Jacob on their part came in from the field, when they heard of the matter, and the men were pained and very angry that folly had been committed against Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter -- which thing ought not to be done.
Bad news spreads quickly, especially if it be as disastrous as that which we have here. As soon as the sons of Jacob receive the report, they come in from the field. Again the subject stands first, because, as in v. Ge 34:5, their share in the following transactions is specially under consideration. Critics, failing to appreciate this feature of these two verses, call both v.5 and v.7 poor Hebrew -- a patent self-condemnation of scholars proud in their own conceit. The worst offender is Procksch.
The first step on the part of the brothers naturally is to hear the entire story. Their first reaction is pain or grief (yith'atsebu, "they were hurt"). The second is anger yichar lahem me'odh, "it burned for them exceedingly." Both these reactions are seen to be more than the ordinary carnal reactions of brothers when the explanatory clause is heeded which we find attached immediately: "that (or "for") folly had been committed against Israel." The sons of Jacob appreciate the honourable destiny which was laid before all descendants of Jacob when God Himself bestowed the honourable epithet of "Israel" on their father. They knew that the tribe was destined to become a great people. God's promises were preserved among them. Two explanations are here possible, which really differ but little in the final analysis. Either Jacob's sons consider their tribe already the Israel out of which the nation Israel is soon to develop and then they mean: "folly has been committed in Israel." Or else they think of the sacred dignity vested by God in their father Israel and mean: "folly has been committed against Israel" -- for be may mean "against." The infinitive lishkabh ("to lie") is here used in a modal sense, called by some a gerundive sense; "by lying with Jacob's daughter" (K. S.402 z). The last clause may be rendered as above: wekhen lo' ye'aseh -- "which thing ought not to be done." K. C. arrives at nearly the same result by assuming a transition from indirect to direct discourse with the omission of the verb "and they said"; then we render after the verb of saying: "So ought not to be done." The obligation ("ought") is covered by the imperfect (G. K.107 w).
So far Jacob's sons are to be commended. Canaanite moral indifference and lascivity would have found what Shechem had done quite natural and certainly not reprehensible. Jacob's sons live on the level of true faith, at least in part, and as a result have clear ethical concepts. Yet, as the sequel shows, a measure of the carnal enters in and blurs their spiritual vision. Usually they are condemned too harshly as being utterly devoid of a sense of higher values. This verse in its use of the name "Israel" compels us to allow a measure of spiritual understanding on their part. They err largely in their choice of means for solving the difficulty involved.
8-12. And Hamor spoke with them saying: As for Shechem, my son, he is dearly attached to your daughter. Do give her to him for wife. Intermarry with us: your daughters ye may give us; and our daughters ye may take for yourselves. Then ye may live with us, for the land lies open before you. Dwell in it, travel back and forth in it, establish yourselves in it. And Shechem said to her father and her brethren: Let me find favour in your sight; I will give whatsoever you say. Make the demand for dowry and gift heavy. I will pay it, no matter what you say. Only give me the girl for wife.
Though (v. Ge 34:6) Hamor had set out to speak with Jacob, in the meantime Jacob's sons have come home, and so Hamor speaks "with them," here really including the sons and the father. But the Canaanite laxity of morals is apparent in both the father's and the son's words: neither admits that a wrong has been done. They are ready, however, to make an adjustment just as it might have been made for any regular marriage. What has occurred does not constitute an irregularity. They feel that Jacob's clan should feel honoured at the proposal of a matrimonial alliance with their own princely line. Or at least they anticipate that a financial adjustment may smooth out all misunderstanding. Neither of the two modes of settlement dare be agreeable to Jacob's sons if they purpose to remain true to their spiritual heritage.
Hamor apparently first comes up alone and speaks first. His proposal is that Jacob consent to have Dinah be Shechem's wife because "he is dearly attached" (Hebrew, "his soul clings") to the girl. He calls her by a kind of zeugma "your daughter," though she is but Jacob's daughter; however, all have the disposal of her in hand. This step Hamor visualizes as the inauguration of the general practice of intermarriage. Chathan in the Hithpael actually means "make oneself a daughter's husband" (B D B). "Intermarry" is a loose equivalent about as inaccurate as the German verschwaegern. Naturally, where two tribes freely intermarry they will "live with" one another. This again was quite feasible because larger stretches of unclaimed country still lay available here and there in those days: "the land lies open before you." Then Hamor tries to paint an attractive picture of the advantages accruing to Israel from such an alliance: they "may dwell" in the land, "travel back and forth in it" (sachar, however, implies travelling mostly for the purpose of trading) and they "may establish themselves in it," departing from their more nomadic way of life and adopting agricultural habits. In v.8 "Shechem" stands first -- nominative absolute -- his attitude is primarily under consideration.
11. In the meantime Shechem has come up also and makes a different set of proposals in pressing his suit. Being younger, he courteously asks "to find favour in their sight" and then talks in terms of a financial settlement. He surely displays willingness as far as meeting the customary conditions is concerned. Let them set the terms as high as they will, he is ready to meet them. Infatuation speaks in the young man. He will give "dowry" (móhar, here, no doubt, actually the purchase price paid to parents for their daughter, though Israelites never bought wives) and "gift" (mattan, the wedding gift presented to the bride).
13-17. And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor, his father, with guile, and they spoke because he had defiled Dinah, their sister. And they said to them: It is impossible for us to do this thing, namely to give our sister to an uncircumcised man; for that were a disgrace for us. Only on this condition will we accede to your request, if you will be as we are, and have all males among you circumcised. Then will we give our daughters to you, and shall take your daughters unto ourselves, and we will dwell with you and we two shall become one people. And if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then will we take our daughter and go our way.
Though right in refusing the proposition of the Hivites -- for had Israel accepted, his descendants would have disappeared among the more numerous Canaanites and their spiritual heritage would have been sacrificed -- yet Jacob's sons sin grievously in the manner of their refusal. "They answered with guile" -- mirmah -- "deception." The next verb may be taken to mean, "they spoke treacherously," because dabhar according to the Arabic dßbara originally meant "be behind" and so, perhaps, "speak behind one's back," though no other instance of such use can be cited. We offer another simpler solution: they might have kept a grudging silence, but "they spoke, because he had defiled Dinah." In other words, all the while they were speaking this outrage kept running through their mind, and so all their speaking had to do with avenging this outrage. Whichever explanation be accepted, there is no need for textual alterations.
14. Rightly they insist that they cannot mingle in marriage with the uncircumcised -- but, of course, mere carnal circumcision cannot make any nation worthy to share with them in their rare heritage. So Jacob's sons are guilty of treating the sign of the covenant lightly and of dishonouring it.
15. This verse contains rather a sweeping demand, but behind the demand must lie the fact that many nations and tribes practised circumcision. Ne'oth ("be agreeable" or "accede") is derived from the unused Kal oth. Zo'th -- feminine -- represents the neuter and signifies, "on this condition."
16. The waw conversive (we) in wenathannu introduces the apodosis in this instance; for that reason we have rendered it "then."
17. The condition imposed by Jacob's sons is made rather strong, because if this condition is not met without exception by all inhabitants of their city, the stratagem of Jacob's sons would fail.
We may well ask, Where was Jacob when his sons made these conditions that he certainly would in no case have sanctioned? Above, v.13, these terms and conditions are attributed to "the sons of Jacob" exclusively. There is the possibility that after the transactions were under way Jacob retired in the great grief of his heart and trusted that his sons would well be able to handle the case. It is quite certain that they kept their father in the dark both in regard to their original demand as well as in regard to their further purpose.
18, 19. Their proposition appealed to Hamor and to Shechem, the son of Hamor. The young man did not hesitate to do this thing, because he delighted in Jacob's daughter, and he especially was honoured by all who were of his father's house.
The original says, "their words were good in the eyes of Hamor," etc. We should say, "their proposition appealed to Hamor," etc. The son is agreeable because he above all things wants the girl. The father is agreeable for his son's sake and also because the demand was quite in keeping with customs prevalent at the time. Hamor will have regarded their demand as the outgrowth of a tribal practice or taboo which they felt they dared not violate.
19. The son's attitude is explained at once; but "he did not hesitate" does not mean that he submitted to circumcision on the spot but that he was the first one to submit to the operation after the townsfolk had been found agreeable. Further, by way of anticipation of the agreement of his kinsfolk to the plan, it is explained that he happened to be "honoured by all who were of his father's house." This implies that another young man less respected than Shechem might not have been heeded by the villagers in the proposition on which his marriage hinged.
20-23. And Hamor and Shechem, his son, came to the gate of their city and they spoke to the men of the city saying: As far as these men are concerned, they live harmonious with us and they will dwell in the land, and they will travel back and forth in it; and as far as the land is concerned, it is spacious enough on either side before them. Their daughters we will take to ourselves for wives, and our daughters will we give to them. Only on this condition will the men accede to our request to dwell with us and become one people if every male among us be circumcised, even as they are circumcised. Their cattle and their possessions and all their beasts of burden, shall they not be ours? Only let us accede to their request and they will stay with us.
The gate of the city is the natural place for all transactions of a public or even of a private character. The substance of their speech is given in one unified whole, the various arguments with which father and son plied their friends being smelted together. It is an artful speech. With clever rhetoric the acquisitiveness of the Hivites is appealed to. Things that had never been mentioned to Jacob's sons are introduced. They are really inferences that may well be drawn, results that must follow if intermarriage on a general scale is introduced. These additional things are that the Hivites will come into possession of the Israelite "cattle" -- miqneh -- about the same as "stock" (Meek), of their "possessions" and of their "beasts of burden" -- that must be the meaning of behemah here. One other thing not mentioned to Jacob's sons and yet on the whole an inevitable consequence was: both would "become one people." The Hivites apparently predominated in numbers, and so there was no danger that they would become submerged in the process; so to them it may be mentioned. Note how at the beginning of the speech nouns are placed first in the sentences pointing to the various issues involved: as for these "men" -- as far as "the land" is concerned; also in v.23 as far as their "cattle" "possessions," and "beasts" are concerned. This is a touch true to life. The last yeshebhu of v.23 seems to mean "stay" rather than "dwell." In v.21 the dual yadhßyim, "on both hands," means "on either side." In v.22 the infinitive behimmol, "in being circumcised," is the equivalent of a conditional clause (K. S.404 a).
24. And they hearkened to Hamor and unto Shechem, his son, all who went out of the gate of his city; and all the males, all who went out of the gate of his city, were circumcised.
The entire male population is referred to as adopting the proposed plan. In apposition with "males" twice stands the phrase "all who went out of the gate of his (i. e. his own') city." The participle yotse'ey implies the habitual: they were wont to go out. This phrase, however, refers to the city gate as the castomary council chamber or courthouse; they that go out are the ones that are entitled to sit there. The reason why the expression is used twice is to emphasize that this was a valid decision properly arrived at by those competent to make it. Yotse'ey is a participle construed primarily as a noun (K. S.241 d).
25, 26. And it came to pass on the third day when they were suffering pain, that the two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, full brothers of Dinah, each took his sword and came upon the unsuspecting city and slew all males, Hamor and Shechem, his son, they slew with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from the house of Shechem and went forth.
Wounds come to a kind of crisis on the third day, In this instance it was known to be the third day when a man was incapacitated in a very special sense: ko'abhim, they "were suffering pain." Simeon and Levi deem it to be a matter involving their honour in a very special sense, because they were 'achchim, "full brothers." But so were Reuben and Judah as well as two more. Reuben with a sense of the responsibility of the first-born refrained at least from active participation. Judah, a man of nobler cast, also lent no active assistance when this first step of the plan was carried out. Yet neither of these two seems to have offered active opposition. But then there is the possibility that Simeon and Levi finally decided to carry out their nefarious purpose without informing the rest who seemed more than reluctant. Without a doubt, the murderers took their servants for even two very courageous men could hardly venture to attack a city. At the time both could not have been above twenty or twenty-two years old. Betach, according to its position, as practically all now recognize, belongs to "city" and means "unsuspecting" sorglos (K. W.), being an adverbial accusative and the equivalent of a condensed clause, "as it lay there unsuspecting" (G. K.118 q; K. S.402 k). The men especially involved in this slaughter are specifically mentioned by name, "Hamor and Shechem, his son." Dinah their sister; who must have been kept by Shechem in his house till now, was taken, and so they "went forth," i. e. from the wretched city.
One shudders to think of the bloody cruelty that animated these two brothers in their carnal pride. Not a word can be said to excuse these murderers. The account, as Moses offers it, is strictly objective neither commending nor condemning; he trusts his readers to posses sufficient ethical discernment to know how to judge the deed. Those who class these accounts as being largely legendary may well pause at this chapter. For no nation was wont to develop legends about events that reflected dishonour upon their nation, here in particular upon the tribal father of the priests -- Levi.
Lephi chérebh, "according to the mouth of the sword," means: as the sword is wont to devour, or "according to the usage of war" or "without quarter" (Skinner).
27-29. And the sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city that had defiled their sister. Their flocks and their herds and their asses they took, both what was in the city and what was in the field. And they captured all their wealth, and all their little ones and their wives, and they plundered even everything that was in the houses.
"Sons of Jacob" here refers to all of them. Strangely, they who seemed to have scruples or fears about taking part in the slaughter have no compunctions of conscience about taking a hand in plundering the city. This act of theirs again does them little credit. The thing that rankled in the bosom of all was that this was "the city that had defiled their sister." They are, indeed, largely correct in imputing to the city a share in the wrong done; for the city condoned the wrong and had not the slightest intentions of taking steps to right it. But only the most excessive cruelty can demand such a wholesale retribution for a personal wrong.
28. The cattle is mentioned first in the plunder, no doubt, because the wealth of the Shechemites consisted primarily in cattle. "Flocks" and "herds" and "asses" are listed because these were constituent parts of cattle or stock.
29. Then to show how thoroughly Jacob's sons were in the heat of their vengeance the author reports that also "all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives" were captured, the latter, no doubt, being kept as slaves. Then to produce the impression that the sacking of the city was done with utmost thoroughness the writer adds: "and they plundered even everything that was in the houses." By translating thus we remove the necessity of textual changes which the critics regard as necessary. We hold our translation to be quite defensible.
30, 31. And Jacob said unto Simeon and unto Levi: Ye have brought trouble upon me by causing me to become odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and Perizzites, whereas I have but a small following. Now they will gather together against me and smite me and I shall be destroyed, I and my family. And they said: Should our sister be treated like a harlot?
It is almost unbelievable that Jacob should be reproached by commentators at this point for what he is supposed to have failed to say, namely for not rebuking Simeon and Levi for "their treachery and cruelty." Yet such a man as Jacob could not have failed to be in perfect accord with us in our estimate of this bloody deed of his sons, for Jacob was a truly spiritual man, especially in these his later years. Nor was the moral issue involved in the least difficult to discern. The chief reason for the writer's not mentioning Jacob's judgment on the moral issue is that this issue is too obvious. Furthermore, that judgment is really included in the statement, "ye have brought trouble upon me." Then, lastly, the author is really leading up to another matter that specially calls for discussion. Since, namely, the entire Pentateuch aims to set forth how God's gracious care led on the undeserving people of His choice from grace to grace, the author is preparing to show another instance of such doing and prepares for it by mentioning how greatly troubled Jacob was by this deed. For 'akhar, which means "disturb," "destroy," here means "bring into trouble." In what sense he means this in particular is at once explained, "by causing me to become odious (literally: to stink') to the inhabitants of the land." That surely implies that the deed done was both obnoxious and dangerous. In comparison with the inhabitants of the land Jacob had "but a small following," or, says the Hebrew, "men of numbers," i. e., men easily numbered. Had God not intervened, the outcome would inevitably have been as Jacob describes it: they would have gathered together and smitten and destroyed him and his family. Though without a doubt the deed of Jacob's sons gave evidence of great courage, it certainly also entailed even greater rashness. The thoughtlessness of young men who rush headlong into ill-considered projects was abundantly displayed by this massacre.
31. Simeon and Levi are still a bit impatient of rebuke. What they say is true enough: their sister should not be treated like a harlot (ye'aseh -- an imperfect expressing a potential "should," durfte -- K. S.181). But Delitzsch very properly adds: "Simeon and Levi have the last word, but the very last of all comes from Jacob on his deathbed" (Ge 49:5-7), where Jacob's verdict is clearly recorded for all times: "Cursed be their anger."
We are greatly amazed in reflecting upon the event as a whole that descendants of the worthy patriarch Abraham should almost immediately after his time already have sunk to the level upon which Jacob's sons stand in this chapter. A partial explanation is to be sought in the crafty cunning of their father which in the sons degenerated to the extremes here witnessed. A further bit of explanation is to be sought in their environment: hardly anywhere except in their own home did they see any manifestations of a godly life. Then, in the third place, we must attribute a good measure of guilt of an improper bringing-up of these young men to the irregularities of a home where bigamy ruled. All true spirit of discipline was cancelled by the presence of two wives and two handmaidens in the home -- practically four wives.
Lastly, the chapter as a whole furnishes a clear example as to how much the critics are divided against themselves in spite of their strong protestations of unanimity. Skinner claims that two recensions are interwoven here, but he says they are not J and E; rather he introduces two new sources, I and II, but admits that their accounts may have been revamped by Jx and Ex. A few stand as he does, but Procksch claims to find the usual strands of J and E tradition. Koenig contents himself with the modest assumption that a story of J has been filled out a bit. But the critics as a whole for the most part wrest the simple harmonious account, trying to make themselves and others believe that two tales have been woven into one.
We may well wonder if any man who had proper discernment ever drew a text from this chapter. As a rule, the Sunday school scholars do not even hear of this event in the life of Jacob. Men who followed the mechanical procedure in the work of preaching, which consisted in treating in strictly consecutive order the chapters of a Biblical book that they had selected for such treatment, of necessity had to use this chapter also. As a whole it is an invaluable sidelight on the lives of the patriarchs. It is rightly evaluated by the more mature mind and could be treated to advantage before a men's Bible class. But we cannot venture to offer homiletical suggestions for its treatment.
11. The Last Events of Isaac's History (35:1-29)
If we are to follow the outline offered by the author himself, we must have some such title as the above. For the "history" (toledôth) of Isaac closes with this chapter; he has, unaggressive person that he was, still dominated Jacob's action up to this point. Jacob becomes an independent factor after his father's death, and his own "history" begins with Ge 37:2.
1. And God said to Jacob: Arise, go up to Bethel and tarry there, and \make there an altar unto God who appeared to thee at the time of the flight from before Esau, thy brother.
Since the divine name 'Elohim or 'El dominates this chapter, it appears plainly that the writer regards the various acts and words of God here recorded as displaying the activity of the Creator-God in His authority as He deals with His creature man. In this capacity Elohim authoritatively bids Jacob fulfill his vow; the altar is to be erected, to Elohim (v. Ge 35:3), who showed forth His power in protecting Jacob. The God who controls the nations lets a terror fall upon the inhabitants of the land lest they harm Israel (v. Ge 35:5). It is Elohim, who appears to Jacob, blesses him, changes his name, and bestows upon him the blessing of Abraham; for Elohim alone possesses authority to do these things. Without a doubt, some of these acts, like the last, do also show forth the Yahweh character of God; but we sincerely believe the Elohim character predominates.
We have no way of knowing in what manner God spoke to Jacob. If this appearance is analogous to that of v. Ge 35:9-13, it would seem that He appeared under some visible guise, because (v.13) He "went up from him." But more puzzling is the question why Jacob should have deferred fulfilling the vow of Ge 28:22 and should have to be bidden by God to do according to it. The readiest explanation is that Jacob had kept putting it off until a more convenient season. The level of faith arrived at at the close of chapter 32 had not been maintained. God Himself prevents further sinful delay by allowing Jacob no choice in the matter. That God demands the building of an altar where Jacob had vowed to build a "house" shows how Jacob had meant his vow: he had intended to establish a sanctuary, whose most prominent feature in days of old could be nothing other than an altar. He should "tarry" (shebh, imperative from yashabh; here not in the sense of "dwell" but "tarry") just long enough to carry out the injunction laid upon him. Jacob was not to "go up to Bethel to live" (Meek). This rendering creates an unnecessary conflict with what Jacob actually does.
2-4. And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him: Discard the foreign gods which are in your midst, and purify yourselves and change your garments. And let us set out and go up to Bethel; and there I shall make an altar unto El (God) who answered me at the time of my distress, and was with me on the way that I went. And they turned over to Jacob all the foreign gods in their possession and the rings that were in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the terebinth near Shechem.
Such a command as Jacob has just received requires more, as Jacob clearly sees, than a mere literal keeping. A general repentance and reconsecration of all that are with him should accompany the outward act. Certain of the more recent happenings had taught him the need of such a purging of his household. His sons had given evidence of a very carnal and cruel disposition. His daughter may at least have displayed undue levity. The grave danger growing out of the present situation had contributed to stir his conscience. But most important of all, there had been a most pernicious and dangerous practice subtly at work poisoning the fountainhead of all true religion -- idols were worshipped. Most of this evil must have kept under cover. It now appears that Rachel's purpose in stealing her father's teraphim (Ge 31:19) may well have been at least occasionally to engage in the worship of them. Then it is highly probable that the servants acquired in Mesopotamia may in many cases have still been idolaters. The sacking of Shechem may have brought additional "foreign gods" into the possessions of the plunderers, and the mere having of them will have constituted a grave danger for the possessors. Without a doubt, Jacob will as a faithful patriarch have instructed his entire household to serve Yahweh, the only true God, and, as Luther frequently reminds, will have been a faithful preacher in his own household. But now the drastic action that might well have been taken long before marks a courageous and thoroughgoing attempt to root out the evil. Patriarchal authority certainly made Jacob's course possible and effective. Hasiru means more than our "put away" -- that might imply "storing away"; the verb is rather an emphatic "discard." The command, "purify yourselves," may include ceremonial washing, as in Ex 19:14, but its essence would be: purge your hearts and lives of this noxious influence. Again as at Mt. Sinai the changing of garments was to do honour to the occasion and further symbolize the putting off of the old and the putting on of the new. For "foreign gods" the Hebrew uses the noun in place of the adjective -- "the gods of the foreigner."
3. With the preparations demanded in v.2, which may well be regarded as a repentance of heart, the people as a whole are ready to "set out" (literally: "rise up," qum) and "go up" ('alah, for Bethel lies 1,000 feet higher). In recounting by way of thankful confession what God did for him Jacob remembers what strength God displayed in guarding him against all harm and therefore designates Him as El, the "Strong One." Jacob's confession includes the statement that 'El answered him "in the day" (beyom) or "at the time of my distress." The following words are a definite allusion to Ge 28:15; for this was just what God had promised at Bethel, to be with him on the way that he went. Since, without a doubt, Jacob had frequently told the story of God's promise, this word will have been recognized by those that heard him as an acknowledgment of God's faithfulness.
4. When "they gave" (nathan) to Jacob the objects he had asked them to discard, it was with the purpose that he might dispose of them as he pleased; therefore we translate nathan they "turned over" to Jacob. Apparently they entered wholeheartedly upon the plan, for they gave "all the foreign gods in their possession," as well as earrings, which must have served as amulets and tokens of some idolatrous practices. Jacob buries all they give him "under the terebinth near Shechem." Such a terebinth ('elah) was mentioned as having been at Shechem in Abraham's day (Ge 12:6), although there we read, "the terebinth of Moreh," which, as we remarked on this passage, hardly bears any idolatrous connotation. Since it may, nevertheless, be the prominent terebinth under which Abraham had stopped and at which the Lord had appeared to him, the article may here recall that event; and the sacred memories associated with it may well accord with the memorable event of our chapter, and so the tree becomes a memorial tree of the notable religious events. Reluctant to accept Scriptural suggestions and seemingly anxious to obscure a simple text, one critic remarks: "The burial of idolatrous emblems under this sacred tree has some traditional meaning which we cannot now explain." The claims to the effect that some Canaanite cult was associated with this tree rest upon a weak foundation. The dative is here expressed by the preposition 'el, (K. S. p.263, 1). In Jos 24:26 Shechem becomes the scene of an event much like that of Jacob's days.
5-7. Then they departed; but there was a terror of God upon the cities round about them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan -- that is to say, Bethel -- he and all the people that were with him. And he built there an altar and called the place El-Bethel (God of Bethel), for there God had been revealed to him in his flight from Esau.
God gives plain tokens of his favour and approval of the step just taken by Jacob in purging out idolatry by putting restraint upon all Canaanite projects of revenge for the Shechemites. Certainly, here again God's favour far exceeded the deserts of the chosen group, but on the other hand Jacob's reformation had prepared his family for holier living. The "terror of God" was a supernatural terror -- "of God" being either a descriptive genitive or a genitive of source. Apparently, the neighbouring cities had intended a murderous pursuit, and in point of numbers they certainly had the advantage. But God had purposes for the future in reference to Abraham's seed and so spared them. "Terror," chittah, a feminine noun, has a masculine verb because of the tendency to let sentences begin with masculine verbs (K. S.345a). Cf. also 2Ch 20:29.
6. We are reminded of Ge 28:19 where already Jacob had altered "Luz" to "Bethel." The mention of Bethel is a definite allusion to the former experience at this site. So, too, the mention of the coming of Jacob "and all the people that were with him" aims to show how marvellously God had fulfilled His promise to bring Jacob back unharmed. The critics do not believe the Elohist, so called, capable of making any such point, so they ascribe at least 6a to P. Naturally, such points are too important for the writer, Moses, to overlook.
7. Then the altar is built, no doubt, more than the simplest kind of a place of sacrifice. If in making his vow (Ge 28:22) Jacob had spoken of a "house of God," we are justified in thinking here of a permanent sanctuary, such as the needs of that day would require, the task of building which may have required weeks. Yet everything centred about the mizbéach, "the place of slaughtering" or the "altar." Here now, without a doubt, maqom must mean "holy place" or "sanctuary." This holy "place" therefore receives the name 'El-Bethel, "the Strong God of Bethel." Those translators who failed to recognize that the holy place was meant (e. g. Septuagint) altered the name to a mere "Bethel." The propriety of the name Jacob chose is readily apparent: "The Strong One" who had so often delivered him as He had promised at "Bethel" is the one whose altar Jacob has built. The experiences of twenty years are perpetuated pointedly in this name. To make the reason for the erecting of the altar clear beyond all doubt the reason of v.1 is again repeated here: "God had been revealed to him in his flight from Esau." The verb nighlû is plural with ha'elohim, a plural of potentiality, a harmless construction explained above on Ge 20:13; which see. Such expressions never contain reminiscences of a former polytheistic standpoint. Here in particular all such possible allusions are ruled out by 'Elohim with the article ha, a combination always of the strictest monotheistic import, for it means: "the true God."
8. And Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died and was buried below Bethel beneath the oak; so it came to be called the Oak of Weeping.
Of Deborah we read in Ge 24:59 without being apprised of her name. It will forever remain a puzzle how she came to be with Jacob at Bethel. The simplest surmise is that after Rebekah's death she may have chosen to attach herself to Jacob, because she had loved and tended him in infancy and in youth. Even on Jacob's part there may have been an attachment for one, who in our day might be referred to as an old "mammy." Deborah must have been very old at this time. Since Jacob may have been nearly 110 years old at this time and was born rather late in his mother's life, an age of 170 years for Deborah is not unlikely. But Isaac lived to be 180 years old (v. Ge 35:28). But these unexplained and unusual features constitute no reason for questioning the historicity of this event. The confusion of our event and the person of Deborah (Jud 4:5) does not lie in these passages but in the minds of the critics. The Deborah of a later date "judged" and dwelt "under a palm tree between Ramah and Bethel." Our Deborah "died" and was buried "under an oak below Bethel." More important to observe is the fact that the Scripture regards the death and the burial of this menial worthy of notice; and that fact would lead us to infer, as Luther does, that "she was a wise and godly matron, who had served and advised Jacob, had supervised the domestics of the household and had often counselled and comforted Jacob in dangers and difficulties." So the "Oak of Weeping" became a monument to a godly servant whose loss was deeply mourned by all.
9-12. And God appeared to Jacob again as he came from Paddan-Aram and blessed him; and God said unto him: Thy name is Jacob; thy name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name. So He called his name Israel, And God said to him: I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a group of peoples shall come from thee, and kings shall come forth from thy loins. And the land which I gave to Abraham and to Isaac, I now give to thee; also to thy seed after thee will I give the land.
Apparently the author's point of view is that Jacob is to be regarded as still on his way home from Paddan-Aram. Only in v. Ge 35:27 does Jacob actually return home to his father Isaac. But since Jacob has returned again to Bethel, at least the significant point of departure had again been reached. To confirm and ratify the promises made at the time when God first appeared to him at this place, God deems it good and necessary for Jacob that He appear to him again. With this appearance is coupled a ratification of the change of name which was first determined Ge 32:28. Since the whole of God's dealings with Jacob in this manifestation may be designated as the imparting of a divine blessing -- even the change of name may be regarded from this point of view -- it is here said and He "blessed him."
10. It must remain a divine prerogative to determine when men need manifestations Such as these. So, then, it must have appeared necessary and good in the eyes of the Lord first of all to confirm the change of name and so to reimpress the obligation involved in the new name. If, then, this episode is closed with the assertion: "so He called his name Israel," this is no denial of Ge 32:28 but a reaffirmation of it. But criticism will persist in thinking this account in conflict with the earlier experience. But why should God not repeat what He wishes to emphasize strongly?
11, 12. These verses are a reaffirmation of the promise formerly given at Bethel Ge 28:13-15. In the earlier passage Jacob is assured that his seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and that he shall spread abroad to all quarters of the land. Here the blessing of fruitfulness and of multiplying covers the same ground, except that here in addition it is specified that "a nation and a group of peoples shall come" from him, as well as kings. In both words possession of the land is assured to Jacob and his seed. There God designates Himself as the faithful Yahweh; here, as 'El Shadday, i. e., God Almighty. Strangely, the earlier passage Ge 28:14 b offers the Messianic thought ("in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed"), which is not restated in the passage before us. May this be due to the fact that this most prominent part of the blessing had been laid hold upon by the faith of Jacob so decisively and retained so firmly that it required no repetition? It seems so. We know no more appropriate explanation.
13-15. And God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him. And Jacob erected a pillar in the place where God spoke with him, a pillar of stone, and poured a libation on it and also poured oil upon it. And Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.
The unusual expression "went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him" implies that as God had spoken to Jacob from a position above Jacob so from this point His visible ascent occurred in a plainly visible fashion. For me'alaw means "from above him" and marks the starting point of His departure. It is hardly to be expected that the stone erected in Ge 28:18 in commemoration of the previous event will still have been standing after a lapse of thirty years, during which time Jacob had had no occasion to visit the spot. The matstsebha is in this instance again a sacred memorial pillar; and since wooden pillars may occasionally have been used, this one is specified to have been "of stone." The libation is poured out (nasakh nésekh -- "pouring out a pouring," i. e., a drink-offering or libation) as a quantity of wine that here constitutes an independent offering but later was always used in conjunction with other offerings. The oil is the oil of consecration. On drink-offerings see De 32:38; Ex 29:40; 30:9. Though this constitutes a repetition of what transpired Ge 28:18, it, like the appearance of God, is a second and a distinct act: God appeared twice; Jacob anointed a stone twice. But no one who reads the account fairly would claim to find evidence here of the fact that "these monuments were doubtless originally objects, of worship," or that the "libation was in the first instance an offering to the dead." Such interpretations impute to the patriarch superstitions of which not one trace appears in the text. Such "debunking" of the patriarchs and their religion deserves the sharpest rebuke. Note the omission of the dagesh forte in yitsoq (G. K.71).
15. If it seem strange that the name of the place should a second time (cf. Ge 28:19) be called "Bethel," i. e. "house of God" let a distinct difference be noted. Then there was but one person; now there is a multitude. Then the one expressed his godly sentiments in a memorial; now a whole tribal group shares in the experience, even if, perhaps, Jacob alone witnessed the divine manifestation. This time the word "Bethel" expresses what all feel or are to feel.
16-18. And they departed from Bethel, and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel brought forth a child and had great difficulties in the birth. And it came to pass when her labour was extremely hard that the midwife said to her: Do not be afraid, for this one too shall be a son for you. And it came to pass as her soul departed -- for she was dying -- that she called his name Ben-oni (Son of my sorrow), but his father called him Benjamin (Son of the right hand).
Jacob is on the way to his father at Hebron. Rachel's travail comes upon her "when they were still some distance from Ephrath." Now 'ephrath means "fruitful region" and must have been a certain fruitful area within which Bethlehem was the most prominent town. In Jacob's day the limits of that area may have been more distinctly marked so that, as they were approaching it, their location would be marked in reference to the proximity of Ephrath. Unfortunately, no light has as yet been thrown upon the expression kibrath. Luther says ein Feldwegs. Does he mean a distance like the length of an ordinary field? A. V. imagines the distance to have been greater, saying: "still some distance" -- so above. The Syriac Peshito seems to go too far when it calls the distance "a parasang," i. e. about six miles. The expression must mean a familiar distance and hardly seems to imply a great distance. The birth is first recorded in a summary way: watteledh, "and she brought forth a child." In characteristic Hebrew manner the details follow: she "had great difficulties (literally: "she had a hard time of it" or "she was hard beset") in the birth." Lidhtah -- infinitive from yaladh.
17. The Hifil stem of the verb qashah here differs little in meaning from the Piel of v.16; if anything, it may be a bit stronger: "her labour was extremely hard" vs. "she had great difficulties." The "midwife" was none other than some older woman experienced in helping at birth. She comforts Rachel when she discerns that this child too is to be a son, as she had prayed Ge 30:24 that he might be.
18. Rachel's birth struggle terminated fatally. Since néphesh means both "soul" and "life," we may translate either: "as her soul," or "as her life went forth or departed." There is a very tragic note in this that her dying word is an expression of the anguish of her soul as she gives the name to her son -- Ben-oni, i. e. "son of my sorrow." It would, indeed, have been almost morbid to allow a son to bear such a name through life. So the father promptly alters the name to at least a similar one: Benjamin. Though literally translated: "son of the right hand," this name may signify "a child of good fortune" because the right side was commonly regarded as the stronger and more honourable and so came to symbolize good fortune. Glueckskind has aptly been suggested as a rendering. From Jacob's point of view this is the son that rounds out the number of his children to a perfect twelve, and so his birth is a token of good fortune. It hardly seems likely that this son's birth is contrasted with that of the other sons in that he was born after Jacob became free, whereas the other eleven are the sons begotten in the state of relative bondage.
19-21. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath, that is Bethlehem. And Jacob set up a pillar at her grave. This is the pillar of the grave of Rachel until this day. But Israel moved on and pitched his tent beyond Migdaleder.
After Rachel's death the sad duty of love, burial, devolved upon Jacob. The writer gives us the location of this grave very definitely for a reason which will soon become apparent. He says it was "on the way to Ephrath." This does not necessarily involve that the burial took place at the very spot where she died. Yet it cannot have been far from there, because in v. Ge 35:16 they were "still some distance from Ephrath." Nor are they now there. Ephrath is identified, for strictly speaking it is more in the nature of a common noun ("fruitful region") than a proper noun, or according to its meaning there may have been several such Ephraths in the land. The closer identification says: "that is Bethlehem." Since Bethlehem is a town in a region Ephrath -- so also in Mic 5:2 -- this identification must be meant in the sense that Bethlehem was the best known or most important town in this tract. Another possibility is this: "way" maybe supplied before the second noun, thus: "on the way to Ephrath, that is the way to Bethlehem." Then the region would be mentioned first; thereafter the specific spot in the region. Such a construction has nothing harsh or unnatural about it. Usually critics call the parenthetical identification -- "that is Bethlehem" -- a blunder on the writer's part. They say that the writer did not know that the region and the town were not identical. Strange ignorance on his part! But with our second explanation another difficulty vanishes: Jacob in coming from Bethel and approaching Ephrath may have been just past the site of Jerusalem when Rachel died. Near there he buried her. But now the two passages that are usually said to conflict with this point of view lose their point, viz., 1Sa 10:2; Jer 31:15. The first places Rachel's sepulchre in the border of Benjamin. But the border between Benjamin and Judah ran diagonally through Jerusalem. All we, then, need to assume is that Jacob had not yet passed Jerusalem when Rachel died.
The second passage (Jer 31:15) represents the mother of Benjamin weeping over her slain children at Ramah. Now Ramah lay about five miles north of Jerusalem. However, though Rachel is represented as rising from her tomb and lamenting over her slain descendants that does not say that her sepulchre has to be at the same spot where she weeps. The only discrepancy would then be the traditional site of Rachel's tomb, the Kubbet Rachel about two miles north of Bethlehem.
Somehow the peculiar interest attaching to the tomb of Rachel in Moses' day lay in the fact that the pillar, which Jacob set up as a memorial at Rachel's tomb, was still to be seen after a lapse of four hundred years. How it came that this pillar was not dislodged by the Canaanites or did not fall of itself we may not be able to determine. Sometimes burial sites enjoy even the respect of strangers. Neither have we any means of determining how Moses came into possession of this interesting fact. But all this casts no shadow of doubt upon its correctness. Moses, however, inserted such notices to arouse interest in the land of promise on the part of the people whom it was his business to lead there.
21. He that departs from the scene of his sorrow is designated as "Israel," as it would seem to indicate that he bore his grief as his better, newer nature helped him to do, and so "moved on" a chastened but a more seasoned saint of God. But for the present he did not move far. For "MigdalEder," meaning "the tower of the flocks," i. e. a lookout tower for shepherds, was, according to Mic 4:8, (rightly interpreted), on the southeast hill of Jerusalem on old territory of the tribe of Benjamin (Jos 18:28; Jud 1:21).
22 a. And it happened while Israel dwelt in that land that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine. And Israel heard of it.
A sad testimony to the demoralization of Jacob's sons! Jacob is here called Israel to remind us that in doing this vile deed Reuben dishonoured Israel, the eminent hero of faith. Vile, incestuous lust here has its sway among men who should have been worthy to bear the honourable title sons of Israel. Though Bilhah was heretofore described only as Rachel's "handmaid," she is now after Rachel's death described in her relationship to Jacob against whom the wrong is done and is designated as Jacob's "concubine." Critics cannot see such simple proprieties and promptly seize upon such points as proofs of a supposedly different style of different authors. Need we be told the self-evident thing that Jacob disapproved and was deeply grieved and shamed? We are merely informed that he became aware of what has happened: he "heard of it." This prepares us for Ge 49:4 where his disapproval finds lasting expression for all future time. Criticism's verdict again cannot satisfy: it calls this statement "probably a temporal clause of which the apodosis has been intentionally omitted." The infinitive bishkon -- a temporal clause (G. K.45 g).
22b-27. Now Jacob had twelve sons: the sons of Leah -- the first-born of Jacob, Reuben, and Simeon, and Levi and Judah and Issachar and Zebulon; the sons of Rachel -- Joseph and Benjamin; the sons of Bilhah, the handmaid of Rachel -- Dan and Naphtali; the sons of Zilpah, the handmaid of Leah -- Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob which were born to him in PaddanAram. And Jacob came to Isaac, his father, to Mamre, to Kirjath-Arba -- that is Hebron -- where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned.
Summaries or recapitulations serve a good purpose in narratives. Here it can be seen to be very appropriate to have those twelve who are Jacob's sons listed together, first, to reimpress their names on the mind and to show what potentialities for development into a numerous people lay in Jacob's descendants at this point already. Critics, of course, call this one of the characteristics of P, to write such summaries and discourse on their supposed findings but fail to see how naturally any writer, or writers, summarize at important junctures of their narratives, as here where Jacob presents himself to his father Isaac.
These sons are listed according to their mothers rather than according to age because those of one mother would naturally find themselves drawn closer together. Then, again, it is but natural that the sons of the wives be listed first, then those of the handmaidens. But among the wives, though Rachel was the favourite, Leah had borne many sons long before Rachel began; consequently her children are listed first. These twelve are all said to have been born in Paddan-Aram, though everyone knows that Benjamin was born in Canaan. Yulladh as a singular with a plural subject ("these" being the antecedent) is to be accounted for by the fact that after they have been summarized, they appear to the writer as one group. The passive of this verb is a convenient mode of avoiding the mention of numerous subjects (K. S.108).
27. Comparing with Ge 18:1, we notice that Mamre will most likely be a briefer designation for "the terebinths of Mamre." The well-informed writer lists both names of the ancient town, giving "Hebron" parenthetically as the better known name for "KirjathArba," i. e., "the city of Arba." To mention that Abraham and Isaac "had sojourned" there does not serve the purpose of imparting new facts but suggests what it was that drew Jacob to Hebron: the place was redolent with the memories of his godly forefathers.
The break in v.22 indicates, as it were, the beginning of a new paragraph. The double accent on yisra'el suggests the two possible modes of reading: othnach for private reading, making a pause according to the sense, the metheg for public or liturgical reading to indicate direct continuation, slurring over the vile deed.
28, 29. And the length of Isaac's life was one hundred and eighty years. And Isaac expired and died and was gathered unto his people, an old man and sated with days; and Esau and Jacob his sons buried him.
From this time onward Jacob enters into the full patriarchal heritage, having at last attained to a spiritual maturity which is analogous to that of the patriarch. Coincident with this is Isaac's receding into the background. Consequently Isaac's death is now reported, though it did not take place for another twelve or thirteen years. For shortly after this, when Joseph was sold into Egypt, he was seventeen years old. When he stood before Pharaoh he was thirty (Ge 41:46). Seven years later when Joseph was thirtyseven, Jacob came to Egypt at the age of 130 (Ge 47:9). Consequently Jacob must have been ninety-three at Joseph's birth and at the time of our chapter 93 plus 15, i. e. about 108 years. But Isaac was sixty years old when Jacob was born; 108 plus 60 equals 168 equals Isaac's age when Jacob returned home. But in closing the life of Isaac it is proper to mention his death, though in reality this did not occur for another twelve years. Strange to say, Isaac lived to witness Jacob's grief over Joseph.
29. Gawa'," he expired," describes the process; muth, "he died," marks the conclusion of the process. That he "was gathered unto his people" certainly implies more than being laid in the common ancestral grave or even than passing out of this life. They to whom he goes are a "people" whom he joins. How strong and clear the hope of eternal life was in those days we cannot now tell, but this word bears testimony to such a faith. With the progressive weakening of the human race Isaac at 180 years was counted as an old man. How much of life God had let him taste is indicated by the statement that "he was sated (sebha' -- ' full') with days." He had seen as many as his soul might desire. It is a pleasant fact to note that at the death of their father the once estranged brothers are still united.
On the sources of this chapter the critics, though far from being of one mind, claim to have discerned a pattern about as follows: E wrote 1-8, 16-20. To J must be ascribed 21, 22 a. This leaves for P 9-15, 22 b-29 (K. C.). Aside from the fundamentally wrong presuppositions about discernable sources we have pointed to several additional weaknesses of this construction. To one not blinded by the glamour of pseudocriticism and its claims the manifest unity of the chapter and its natural sequence of parts will be sufficient proofs of its original unity.
Other untenable claims by more extreme critics are these: v. Ge 35:22 describes an old marriage custom of the Reubenites; v. Ge 35:18 the birth of Benjamin in Canaan is supposed to indicate that the tribe was formed after the conquest of Canaan. Attempts to discover astral myths relative to sun and moon reflected in the appearing of the brighter Jacob (sun) after the dimmer Isaac (moon) are extravagant impossibilities.
The first episode (v. Ge 35:1-8) suggests some such subject as Spiritual Housecleaning, or since Jacob is performing his vow, why not use the approach suggested by the psalm: Perform Thy Vows unto the Most High? A very practical treatment of that theme is suggested by these verses. Since v. Ge 35:9-15 is in a double sense a repetition of matters found previously in Genesis, why not make that a prominent feature of the treatment of the section and speak of the Repetition of Spiritual Experiences?