AudioEvangelism.com - Jacob Returns to Bethel and Rachel Dies Jacob Returns to Bethel and Rachel Dies
"Then God said to Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.' And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, 'Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone.' So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem" (Gen. 35:1-4).

Jacob had returned from Mesopotamia years earlier and had not yet fulfilled the vow he had made to God at Bethel when fleeing from Esau (cf. 28:20-22). So God reminds him of his duty and Jacob obeys God's voice and prepares his family for a journey to Bethel for worship. They needed to be purified, and the preparations were of a physical and spiritual nature. It is unfortunate that Jacob had to instruct his household to do away with idols, which implies a certain degree of tolerance on his part (for the sake of his wives) for their foreign gods prior to that time. But, at least he can be credited with seeking to do the right thing at this point. Evidently their earrings were tokens of idolatry in some form, so they were removed also. These foreign gods may have been part of what had kept Jacob from fulfilling the vow previously.

Wherever they traveled, their presence terrified the inhabitants of the land. Certainly this intimidation was part of God's protection for Israel. He had great plans for this people and would not allow the Canaanites to rise up against them and annihilate them (as Jacob had feared). As instructed, Jacob built an altar at Bethel. Rebekah's nurse, Deborah, was buried there at that time. The relaying of this information here brings up a couple questions:

Scripture does not reveal the answers, but it is reasonable to suggest that Rebekah had died previously while Jacob was working for Laban. Deborah perhaps came to serve Jacob's family after the death of her mistress. Regardless, she is significant enough to the family to be mentioned here.

God appeared to Jacob again and repeated the blessing, including his name change to Israel - "I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land" (Gen. 35:11,12). Jacob set up a pillar where God talked with him and worshiped there.

"Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor. Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, 'Do not fear; you will have this son also.' And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni [i.e., son of my sorrow]; but his father called him Benjamin [i.e., son of my right hand]" (Gen. 35:16-18). Rachel died and was buried in Bethlehem. Jacob set up a pillar marking the burial site and then traveled a distance away from his family, presumably to mourn the loss of Rachel. Unfortunately, Jacob's absence prompted bad behavior between his oldest son and the former maid of Rachel - "And it happened, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine; and Israel heard about it" (Gen. 35:22).