A Journey Back to Bethel: A Comprehensive Commentary on Genesis 35

Genesis 35 is an extraordinary chapter in the biblical narrative, marking a significant turning point in Jacob‘s life and spiritual journey. This passage is an eloquent reminder of God’s covenant faithfulness and the transformative power of His divine encounters. Through an in-depth exploration of this remarkable chapter, we’ll uncover profound insights that can shape our own faith journey and deepen our understanding of God’s unchanging promises.

In this commentary, we’ll dissect each portion of Genesis 35, revealing how Jacob’s return to Bethel represents a personal and communal spiritual renewal. As we unpack this scripture, we’ll discover how his experiences speak to our own struggles, triumphs, and encounters with God.

Genesis 35 serves as a reminder of God’s unwavering commitment to His promises, His power to transform lives, and His call for us to return to Him, no matter how far we’ve wandered. Let’s begin this journey of understanding together, tracing Jacob’s footsteps back to Bethel.

Key Takeaways from This Article:

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  1. A deep understanding of Genesis 35 and its significance in the larger biblical narrative.
  2. Insights into Jacob’s spiritual transformation and renewal.
  3. Unpacking God’s covenant faithfulness and how it applies to our lives today.
  4. A broadened perspective on personal spiritual journeys and their importance in our Christian walk.
A Journey Back to Bethel: A Comprehensive Commentary on Genesis 35

Setting the Scene: The Genesis 35 Context

Before delving into Genesis 35, understanding its context within the larger narrative of Genesis is essential. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, is a central character in the biblical story. His life is marked by divine encounters, wrestling matches with God, and a complex journey towards accepting his God-given identity.

Genesis 35 comes on the heels of a troubling period in Jacob’s life, including his daughter Dinah’s tragedy and his sons’ violent response (Genesis 34). Jacob, directed by God, returns to Bethel, the place of his first divine encounter, thereby shifting from a season of turmoil to a time of spiritual renewal.

The need for this renewal is evident in Jacob’s and his household’s lives. Jacob’s journey back to Bethel is more than a physical relocation; it’s a spiritual journey symbolizing his return to God. This journey speaks volumes to us today, reminding us of God’s call to return to Him, especially during life’s turbulent periods.

God’s Call to Jacob: Return to Bethel

The opening verses of Genesis 35 record God’s command to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau” (Genesis 35:1, NKJV). This command is significant for several reasons.

Firstly, Bethel was where Jacob had his first encounter with God, marking a critical point in his spiritual journey. God’s command for Jacob to return to Bethel signifies a return to the foundations of his faith and a renewal of his covenant relationship with God.

Secondly, the command to build an altar underscores the importance of worship and sacrifice. Altars in the Bible often symbolize places of encounter with God, serving as constant reminders of God’s faithfulness and divine intervention. The altar at Bethel would serve as such a reminder for Jacob and his descendants.

Lastly, God’s command is an invitation for Jacob to relocate not just physically, but spiritually. It’s a call to leave behind the strife and complications of the past and step into a place of peace and communion with God. Today, this call echoes in our lives, inviting us to return to our own “Bethel,” our place of encounter with God.

Jacob’s Response: Purging and Purification

Upon receiving God’s command, Jacob instructs his household to put away their foreign gods, purify themselves, and change their garments (Genesis 35:2, NKJV). This action signifies Jacob’s obedience to God and his commitment to leading his household in serving God.

Jacob’s command for his family to discard their foreign gods reveals his renewed commitment to monotheism. He recognizes that serving the true and living God requires a complete break from idolatry. This act mirrors the process of repentance in our lives today, where we turn away from idols and return to God.

Jacob’s insistence on purification and changing of garments symbolizes spiritual cleansing and transformation. It’s an outward act that represents an inner change, much like baptism in the New Testament. It indicates a break from the past and the beginning of a new journey with God.

The process of purging and purification is a crucial aspect of our spiritual journey. Like Jacob, we are called to discard our idols, cleanse ourselves, and clothe ourselves with Christ. It’s a process that signifies our transformation and renewal in God.

Journey to Bethel: A Communal Return to God

Following the purging and purification, Jacob leads his family in a journey back to Bethel (Genesis 35:5, NKJV). This physical journey symbolizes a collective return to God, demonstrating the importance of communal faith and the role of spiritual leadership.

Jacob’s journey to Bethel highlights the communal aspect of faith. As the patriarch, Jacob leads his family not just physically, but spiritually, demonstrating the importance of spiritual leadership in guiding others towards God. This journey emphasizes the collective nature of our faith journey, reminding us that our personal faith influences those around us.

The journey also signifies a collective return to God. Jacob’s family, having discarded their foreign gods and purified themselves, accompanies him back to Bethel. This communal return to God underscores the transformative power of God’s call, affecting not just individuals but entire communities.

Jacob’s journey back to Bethel is a powerful reminder for us today about the impact of our faith journey on those around us. As we respond to God’s call, we can influence our families, communities, and even generations to follow.

Building the Altar: A Monument of Worship

Upon reaching Bethel, Jacob builds an altar, as God commanded him (Genesis 35:7, NKJV). This altar serves as a monument of worship, a place of divine encounter, and a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

The building of the altar signifies Jacob’s obedience and commitment to worship God. In biblical times, altars often served as sacred spaces for offering sacrifices, prayer, and worship. By building an altar, Jacob acknowledges God’s sovereignty and expresses his worship.

The altar also represents a place of divine encounter. Bethel, meaning “House of God,” is the site of Jacob’s dream where he saw a ladder reaching to heaven (Genesis 28:12-19). By building an altar here, Jacob is acknowledging and celebrating his history of divine encounters with God.

Moreover, the altar stands as a testament to God’s faithfulness. It serves as a reminder of God’s covenant promise to Jacob and his descendants, reinforcing God’s unwavering commitment to His promises.

The act of building the altar is an inspiring call to us to establish our own ‘altars,’ not physical structures but personal spaces for worship, prayer, and divine encounter. These spiritual altars remind us of God’s faithfulness and help us cultivate a deeper relationship with Him.

Theophany at Bethel: God Reaffirms His Covenant

In Bethel, God appears to Jacob once again, reaffirming the covenant He made with him. “And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you’ ” (Genesis 35:11-12, NKJV).

This theophany, or divine appearance, signifies God’s continuous interaction with His people. God takes the initiative to reveal Himself to Jacob, reaffirming His covenant promises. This interaction underscores God’s faithfulness and unchanging nature.

The reaffirmation of the covenant is also significant. Despite Jacob’s failures and shortcomings, God reaffirms His promise to make Jacob a great nation, showing His grace and steadfast love. This reaffirmation serves as a powerful reminder that God’s promises are based on His faithfulness, not our performance.

In our lives, God also reassures us of His promises. Despite our failures and shortcomings, His promises remain steadfast. This divine reassurance is a source of comfort and hope, reminding us of His unchanging faithfulness.

Life and Death at Bethel: The Birth of Benjamin and Death of Rachel

The narrative in Genesis 35 continues with two significant events: the birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife (Genesis 35:16-20, NKJV). These events highlight the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow, life and death, that often mark our human experience.

The birth of Benjamin, Jacob’s twelfth son, marks a time of great joy. It symbolizes God’s fulfillment of His promise to make Jacob into a great nation. Yet, this joy is tinged with deep sorrow as Rachel dies in childbirth, marking a profound loss in Jacob’s life.

Rachel’s death and the circumstances surrounding it underscore the reality of suffering and loss in our fallen world. However, they also point to the hope of resurrection and eternal life, offering us comfort amidst our own trials and tribulations.

Life’s joys and sorrows, like the birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel, often come intertwined. Yet, as believers, we have the assurance of God’s comforting presence and the hope of eternal life, which help us navigate these complexities.

Jacob’s Journey Continues: The Death of Isaac

Genesis 35 concludes with the death of Isaac, Jacob’s father (Genesis 35:29, NKJV). Isaac’s death marks the end of an era and the passing of the covenant promise to the next generation.

Isaac’s death signifies the passing of the baton from one generation to another. The covenant promise given to Abraham and passed down to Isaac now rests solely on Jacob and his descendants, symbolizing the continuity of God’s promises across generations.

This continuity is a powerful reminder of God’s faithfulness. God’s promises are not limited to a single generation; they extend from generation to generation. We, like Jacob, are recipients and bearers of these divine promises, entrusted with the task of passing them on to the next generation.

Isaac’s death also points us to the reality of mortality and the hope of eternal life. As believers, we are reminded that our earthly lives are temporary, but we have the hope of eternal life in Christ.


Genesis 35 is a remarkable chapter that explores profound spiritual themes through the life of Jacob. His journey back to Bethel symbolizes a personal and communal spiritual renewal. It underscores God’s unwavering commitment to His promises, His transformative power, and His gracious invitation for us to return to Him.

As we navigate our own spiritual journeys, Genesis 35 serves as a vital reminder of God’s faithfulness and the transformative power of divine encounters. Like Jacob, we are invited to return to our own “Bethel,” discard our idols, cleanse ourselves, and journey towards deeper communion with God.

Whether we are experiencing the joy of a promise fulfilled, the pain of a profound loss, or the responsibility of carrying forward a legacy, we can be assured of God’s unchanging faithfulness. We are not alone on this journey; our faithful God is with us every step of the way, inviting us into a deeper relationship with Him.

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